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5 Heart Rate Myths Debunked

Myth No. 3: A healthy resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. continued...

Those studies don't prove that a high resting heart rate caused heart attacks, obesity, or diabetes. But the findings held when the researchers considered other risk factors.

So how high is too high for a resting heart rate? There’s no absolute consensus about this, but most doctors agree that resting heart rates consistently in the upper range are not ideal.

"It is hard to set a precise cutoff for this risk factor, but usually a heart rate of 90 or above is considered abnormal and potentially deleterious," Javaid Nauman, a research fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, tells WebMD in an email. Nauman headed the Norwegian heart rate study, published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health on Jan. 11, 2010.

To find your resting heart rate, press the index and middle fingers over the underside of the opposite wrist, just below the thumb. Press down gently until you feel your pulse. Count the beats for one minute, or count for 30 seconds and multiply by two. To ensure an accurate reading, sit quietly for at least 10 minutes before taking your pulse.

Myth No. 4: A slow heart rate means a weak heart.

"People often think that if their resting heart rate is too slow, they are on the precipice of having their heart stop completely," Tomaselli says. In fact, it tends to be just the opposite.

The heart is a muscle, and, like all muscles, it grows stronger with exercise. The stronger it is, the more efficient it is, taking fewer beats to pump blood throughout the body. So a heart with a resting heart rate under 60 (a condition known as bradycardia) may actually be more fit. That’s why highly conditioned athletes often have resting heart rates of 40 to 60 beats per minute. (For more information on heart rate and fitness, read "The Truth About Heart Rate and Exercise.")

"In general, a slow heart rate that is [not causing any symptoms] is not cause for concern," Marine says. This is particularly true in younger individuals.

In the elderly, bradycardia (even if asymptomatic) might actually signal that heart disease is present. Certain medications, including beta-blockers and other heart drugs, can also cause bradycardia. Bradycardia symptoms may include fatigue, dizziness, and fainting.

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